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‘Never felt more grateful,’ former Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman says after swearing in as judge

Winnipeg’s former mayor has officially taken his seat as a judge of the Court of King’s Bench of Manitoba.

Justice Brian Bowman already took his oath of office and allegiance prior to Friday’s swearing-in ceremony, but took them again for a packed Winnipeg courtroom.

“What an event. It’s kind of like a This Is Your Life moment — you know, being able to look out and see so many friends from so many facets of my life,” he said at the ceremony.

Bowman said the period since December, when he was appointed to the bench, has been a time to reflect on his life.

“What I can say is, I’ve never felt more grateful than I do today.”

Bowman, who has two sons with his wife, Tracy, also acknowledged her support.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into law school, let alone become mayor and now a judge, without Tracy’s love and support,” he said.

An audience of people are pictured.
Bowman already took his oath of office and allegiance prior to Friday’s swearing in ceremony, but took them again for a packed Winnipeg courtroom. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Bowman was called to the Manitoba bar in 2000 and worked in private practice, specializing in the areas of privacy, access to information and social media law.

He set that career aside when he was elected mayor of Winnipeg in 2014.

A Métis man, he was the first Indigenous mayor in the city’s history. He was re-elected in 2018 but opted against running for a third mandate.

“I was proud to break ground at city hall, being the first Indigenous mayor. But here at the courts, I’m not the first Indigenous judge — I’m not even the first Métis judge, and I think that’s awesome,” he said.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, who attended the ceremony, said he’s known Bowman since before either of them stepped into politics.

“The person I’ve gotten to know … is a tremendous asset to our community and to our society,” Kinew said.

“Nowhere did I see that more clearly on the day, around a decade ago, when Maclean’s magazine put out a cover calling our city the most racist city in Canada.”

Bowman, who was mayor at the time, could have responded to the 2015 magazine article in many ways, Kinew said, but he chose to gather concerned citizens, as well as community and political leaders, in the mayor’s office to discuss the way forward.

“I saw the deep pride that he held for our community that had been wounded, and yet also the spirit of wanting to be able to answer [and] respond on behalf of our fellow citizens,” said Kinew.

“Here we are a decade later — you have a First Nations premier paying tribute to a Métis judge. I’m not saying that so that we can say Maclean’s was wrong, I’m saying that so that we can say Justice Bowman was right.”

A man is pictured standing in a courtroom speaking to a panel of judges sitting in front of him.
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew called Bowman ‘a tremendous asset’ to Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

After leaving the mayor’s office, Bowman worked as the vice-president of sustainability and social impact at the Winnipeg-headquartered insurance and financial services company Canada Life.

But Bowman said the idea of becoming a judge came up the day after he announced his decision not to run for a third term as mayor, when he said he got a call from former Manitoba chief justice Richard Chartier.

“To be honest, I had never considered the bench, but the more that we talked [and] the more that I spoke with other judges about the role of a judge, I became more intrigued and motivated by the possibility” to “leverage the skills and knowledge of our community that I had gained in our public office in a different way.”

Bowman encouraged more lawyers to consider running for office, regardless of level of government or political stripe, saying “modern day politics needs more, not less … professionally trained legal minds to help provide good governance.”

“The worst thing that could happen is that you win,” he joked.

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